A.T.M.Nurun Nabi :
The movement for decorating Bengali with the status of an official language in India began long before the creation of Pakistan. An English writer N.B. Holhed in the year 1778 published a book named 'A Grammar of the Bengali Language' (otherwise known as Holhed Grammar) in which he strongly advocated for Bengali instead of Persian as the official language of Indian State of Bengal.
He argued that it would help the East India Company Government run the administration efficiently and understand what the people wanted. (Rashtrabhasha Andoloner Etihash by M.A.Barnik at page no.23).
Clearly this was the first say for Bengali, which reached its peak in 1952 and the government of the newly born Pakistan had to accept it as one of the state languages of the country in the Constitution adopted in 1956. Nawab Ali Chowdhury, an eminent educationist, was the first Indian to have raised the issue of making Bengali the official language of Bengal. In the year 1911, he said at a 'Provincial Education Conference' held in Rangpur that Bengali was the mother language of the Muslims. "This is our language," he claimed.
None showed so much courage as did Nawab Ali Chowdhury of Tangail, writes Dr. Ali Newaj in 1987 in his book titled 'Nawab Ali Chowdhury'. The Nawab told the British, "Whatsoever is the official language of India; Bengali must be the official language of Bengal. (Ref: BangIa Rashtrobhashar Prothom Prostabok Nawab Ali Chowdhury by Abu Md. Motahar).
Seven years later, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah advanced a step forward claiming Bengali as more resourceful than Hindi from the lingua point of view, and urged all to recognize it as the 'language of people'. In a meeting held at Calcutta Bishwa Bharati, he opposed Poet Rabindranath Tagore's advocacy for Hindi as the common language of India and said, "It is Bengali having all the qualities of becoming the People's language." In 1947, Dr. Shahidullah strongly pleaded for making Bengali the state language of Pakistan. He wrote an article in support of his statement.
It needs to mention that Dainik Azad played an important role for the Bengali language. On April 23 in 1937, the daily in its editorial under caption 'Bharoter Bhasha' judged that Bengali had all the qualities of becoming the state language of India in view of Hindi-Urdu conflict over lingua status.
Abul Hashem, MLA, Secretary of Bengal Provincial Muslim League, drafted a resolution in 1946 for declaring Bengali the state language of (proposed) Pakistan.
However, Tamaddun Majlish, an cultural organisation founded by Principal Abul Kashem, was the first organization to voice for Bengali. Tamaddun circulated a booklet on September 1 in 1947 under caption 'State language of Pakistan: Bengali or Urdu?' Few months earlier on June 24, Abul Mansur Ahmad in Dainik Millat categorically wrote that nothing would be more unjust than rejecting Bengali as the state language of Pakistan.
But sadly the then civil and the military bureaucrats of the newly born Pakistan failed to take lessons from history. Rather they became united to suppress the hopes and aspiration of the Bengali-speaking people by all means. The Muslim League leaders from erstwhile West Pakistan said, the Indian agents and the communists were exploiting the lingua franca issue.
Governor General of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah while visiting Dhaka in 1948 said, "Urdu and Urdu shall be the state language of Pakistan." It was a dead blow to the hopes and aspirations of the people of Bengal who sacrificed for the cause of Pakistan more than by the Punjabis, the Sindhis, the Baluchis and the Pathans. Literally, when 56 per cent of Pakistan's total population spoke in Bengali, just three per cent people practised Urdu. Yet, Mohammad Ali Jinnah called for Urdu and thereby made a blunder.
The students of Dhaka University (DU) vehemently protested Jinnah's unilateral declaration. DU student Naimuddin was the first to say 'No' on the face of Jinnah. Thousands of students and people ignored the curfew and bullets and paraded the city streets. The Language Movement, thus, got momentum on February 21 in 1952. The Dhaka University students decided to violate Section 144, as proposed by Abdul Matin, who hailed from Pabna.
The other part of the history is that the Hindus stood against Bengali and opposed all demands for giving it official status. The Sens who occupied Bengal in the 12 century branded it as the bird' s chirping. They warned against the translation of the religious books and reading of any article in Bengali.
Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen writes in his book 'Bengali language and Literature' that the Brahmans strongly opposed Bengali and condemned Krittibus and Kashiram for translating the Ramayana and the Mahabharata into Bengali. Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen concluded as saying that Bengali found its fortunes with the advent of Muslims in Bengal early 13th century. But the defeat of Nawab Siraj Uddowlah at Palassey in 1757 stalled the progress of Bengali temporarily.
Dr. Shahidullah was of the opinion that had not the Muslims been defeated at Palassey, Bengali would have progressed much faster than it surged ahead.
The Sanskrit Pundits, claims Philologist Sir George Griarson, replaced the Bengali letters with the Sanskrit and succeeded by about 90 per cent. English writer N.B.Holhed condemned the step and called it communal and reactionary and anti-traditions.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, (Architect of Bangladesh) writes in his book Ausampta Atmajiboni at page Nos. 91, 92 and 93 that on February 8 in 1948, the Pakistan Constituent Assembly session was proceeding in Karachi. One of the agendas was 'what would be the state language (of the country).' The Muslim League members in the assembly were in favour of Urdu, even those from East Pakistan held the same view. (Amidst it), the Congress representative Dhirendranath Dutta demanded that Bengali should be the state language of Pakistan.
It is because Bengali was the language of the majority population of the country. But the Muslim League MCAs were not at all ready to accept this truth. In it lied a great conspiracy to make Urdu the sole state language sidelining Bengali.
But the evil move did not go unchallenged. The East Pakistan Muslim Students League and the Tamaddun Majlish protested and voiced for making both Urdu and Bengali the state languages of Pakistan. The two organisations jointly convening an all-party meeting formed an action committee named Rashtra Bhasha Bangla Sangram Parishad (Action committee for making Bengali the State Language). Committees of the East Pakistan Muslim Students League were expanded to several districts and sub-divisions.
The Tamaddun Majlish was a cultural organisation. Its leader was Professor Abul Kashem (of Dhaka University). Among those who joined the action committee were Qumruddin Ahmad and Shamsul Haque. It was decided in the joint meeting to declare March 11 in 1948 as Bhasha Dabi Dibosh (Language Demand Day).
The day was observed despite Police obstruction. About 75 leaders and workers of the action committee were arrested and many injured. Among those who were arrested was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, later Architect of sovereign Bangladesh. Meantime, Muslim League leader Khawaja Nazimuddin agreed to hold talks with the Sangram Parishad,.
Shortly Qumruddin Ahmed met us in the jail and informed that the government had agreed to a formula. Those include making Bengali the official language of East Pakistan, recommendation by the East Pakistan Legislative Assembly for making Bengali as one of the state languages of Pakistan, all cases filed against the Sangram Parishad leaders and workers would be withdrawn, all the prisoners would be released and Khawaja Nazimuddin would conduct an investigation into the allegation of Police action.
The great leader writes at page No.111 that once he was going to Aushuganj from Nabinagar thana of Brahmanbaria sub-division by boat. Celebrated folk-lore singer Abbasuddin Ahmad was accompanying him. Songs were being sung on the way. Had I not heard the bhatiali songs of Abbasuddin in his own voice, a part of my life would have remained incomplete. When he was singing in a low voice, it seemed to me, as if the river waves were enjoying his songs. I gradually became the strong fan of him.
He said to me: Mujib! A great conspiracy against Bengali is on. If Bengali is not made the state language, Bengal's culture and civilization will be vanished, the songs you love, its sweetness and image which charms you will be no more. Whatever it is, do something to make Bengali the state language of Pakistan.
I gave him word and acted on it.